As a kid, summer meant sharing the family dinner table with a garden full of produce. In between tomatoes of every shape, shade, and size, we’d carve out a space to place our plates, usually filled with tomatoes, too, diced and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
“Be careful or you might turn into a tomato,” my dad would say to my brother and me, every July, usually during mealtime. A breakfast of fried tomatoes and eggs. A lunch of tomatoes sandwiched between mayo-slathered bread. Or a pasta dinner topped by a garlicky tomato bruschetta so fresh it didn’t need to be cooked.
His other favorite line: “Hope you’re ready to eat zucchini ‘till it’s swimming out of your ears.”
My dad spent most mornings before work drenching himself in sweat in a garden that grew larger every year. On weekends, he’d drag us kids along, teaching us how to cage tomato plants, dry and braid garlic, and use a hoe to whack away weeds until our little arms grew little summer muscles.
Summer was a season of fortunate abundance. And my dad was proud to create it. I’ll never forget the year we sat down with a giant bowl of popcorn — made from homegrown kernels.
Today, I have little room for corn experiments in my own Philly garden. But I have learned how to create abundance in a postage-stamp-sized community plot. Thanks dad, I owe you for that. A few packets of seeds can go a long way, and in unsettling times like these, it feels particularly rewarding to reap a fruitful harvest. I don’t want any of it to go to waste.
If you’re harvesting your own hard-earned crops, I bet you feel the same. Even if you’re garden-less but have a CSA share — no one wants beautiful, farm-fresh produce to go bad.
Below are recipes from Philly chefs that use up summer veggies, and let their flavors shine. And they’re vegetarian-friendly, too. If you’ve still got a table full of produce after making them, Green Meadow Farm’s Glenn Brendle shares tips on how to freeze veggies for the future.
» READ MORE: How to summer in Philly: Our 2020 summer guide
Some produce freezes better.
“You can freeze just about anything, but some produce is so mushy when thawed, it’s not worth it,” says Brendle.
Avoid veggies with high moisture content, like cucumbers, cabbage, lettuce, and radishes. Veggies like peas, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green beans, squash, spinach, kale, and collards all freeze well. Brendle’s favorite is sweet corn.
“You don’t need to blanch it first — you just cut it off the cob, and stick it in an airtight Ziploc bag,” says Brendle.
Blanch most veggies.
“A lot of vegetables, if you put them straight in the freezer, they’ll continue to mature — like peas, they get starchy,” says Brendle. “You want just enough heat to make it essentially stop living, but you don’t want to cook it.”
Blanching deactivates enzymes in produce that cause loss of nutrients, as well as color and flavor changes. To blanch, remove any parts you wouldn’t usually eat, like stems, roots, bruises, seeds, and the outer peel (if usually peeled). Place in a large pot of boiling water. Most veggies only need two to three minutes. For specific timing details, check the National Center for Food Preservation’s chart.
To stop the cooking process, immediately plunge the produce into “the biggest bowl of ice water you can manage,” says Brendle. Then pat dry with paper towels.
Onions, peppers, and fruit usually don’t need blanching.
Use a baking sheet to prevent frozen clusters.
“Think about portion sizes and how you’re going to use the produce,” says Brendle. “You don’t want to freeze spinach in a one-gallon bag because then you’re going to have to unfreeze the whole bag, and you don’t want to refreeze.”
To prevent clumping, arrange produce individually on a baking sheet (particularly useful for delicate items like raspberries), and freeze on the sheet before transferring to a container.
» READ MORE: Eat more plants: Recipes for your next picnic.
Eliminate air before freezing.
“Air is an enemy of any food in long-term food storage,” says Brendle.
Air causes oxidation, which degrades flavor and creates freezer burn. For storage, Brendle recommends using zipper freezer bags, and squeezing out as much air as possible before sealing. Date and label each bag, and freeze immediately.
Freeze in batches.
To speed up freeze times, try not to overload the freezer with unfrozen produce.
“The quicker you freeze, the less time there is for large ice crystals to form,” says Brendle. “The ice crystals puncture and rupture the cells, which is what creates mushy vegetables.”
Grilled Garden Eggplant with Tahina and Pepitas
“If you’re cooking from your garden, you’ve been waiting all season for these eggplants, and you’re probably excited — this is really about that,” says Musi chef-owner Ari Miller. “The eggplant is the dominant flavor, and all of the other components are adding to it, using the eggplant as the canvas.”
On first bite, you’ll get a charred bitterness from the skin, followed by the creaminess of an interior that’s infused with hints of smokiness. It’s complemented by nutty tahina and crunchy pumpkin seeds, notes of bright acid from the lemon, and a touch of sweetness from honey, all ingredients that are simply sprinkled/drizzled on top.
“For eggplant lovers, this is as easy as it gets,” says Miller.
Eggplant (1-2 large, 4-6 medium, or 8-10 small)
¼ cup tahina
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
2 tablespoons honey
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Bread, such as pita or a rustic table bread
Chili flakes or minced fresh chili pepper, optional
Grill whole eggplant over high heat until the skin is charred and flesh is fork tender, about half an hour. Remove each eggplant from the grill directly to a plate.
(If you don’t have a grill, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice eggplant into ½-inch slices and brush with oil to coat. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and bake eggplant until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove directly to a plate.
Smash the flesh with a fork to spread out the eggplant.
Drizzle with tahina, dividing evenly. Repeat with honey, olive oil, and then lemon juice. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds, parsley, and salt. Serve with bread, and a sprinkling of chili, if desired.
— Courtesy Ari Miller of Musi
Cherry Tomato Gnudi
Put a hearty harvest of cherry tomatoes to use with gnudi, a gnocchi-like dumpling made with ricotta cheese instead of potato.
“We always say it’s like the filling of a ravioli, or ravioli without the pasta dough,” says Helm chef and co-owner Michael Griffiths. “For the sauce, the tomatoes don’t need to be perfect — it’s a great way to use up seconds.”
If needed, Griffiths says you can substitute regular tomatoes. Swap in one large heirloom tomato, diced, for the gnudi, and two large heirloom tomatoes, diced, for the sauce.
Yields 12 gnudi, serves 3-4
For the gnudi:
1 pint whole cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup ricotta
1 egg yolk
1 cup all-purpose flour plus 4 cups, or more, to cover the gnudi
2 garlic cloves
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons kosher salt plus 4 quarts of water, for cooking
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
5 basil leaves
For the gnudi: In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high. Add tomatoes, and cook until they release their juice and are lightly charred, 4 to 5 minutes.
In a bowl, mix the tomatoes, ricotta, egg yolk, and garlic with a spatula. Gradually add 1 cup of flour until fully incorporated. Season with salt and pepper.
Fill the bottom of an 8-inch glass baking dish (or any pan/container that’s at least 3 inches deep) with a 1-inch layer of flour. Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, scoop the gnudi on top, one-inch apart. Gnudi should be roughly the size of a small ice cream scoop. Cover with the rest of the flour, or until gnudi is fully submerged.
Refrigerate for 24 hours. This builds a thin “skin” around the gnudi.
Pull gnudi out of the flour, and use your hands to roll into balls. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
In a large pasta pot, salt 4 quarts of water with 2 tablespoons of kosher salt, and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, start the sauce.
For the sauce: In a large sauté pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add tomatoes, and cook 2 to 4 minutes, until they start to release their juices.
Add ¼ cup of the pasta water, until the sauce becomes a pinkish color.
Cook gnudi in the salted water for 3 minutes. Gnudi should be hot in the center. Remove gnudi with a slotted spoon, and place in the butter sauce. Garnish with torn basil leaves. Serve immediately.
Courtesy Michael Griffiths of Helm
Sambal Roasted Summer Squash
Eat this quick and easy dish on its own, or pair it with a protein, like fish or meat. To utilize more squash, double the recipe, and cook the squash in batches.
“You want to make sure your pan is very hot and you don’t crowd the pan so that the squash can be roasty but retain some freshness at the same time,” says Cadence chef and co-owner Jon Nodler. “Feel free to add other vegetables, such as shishitos, green beans, cherry tomatoes, cabbage, or carrots.”
2 medium-sized summer squash, julienned or cut into matchsticks (can also use zucchini, patty pan squash, or any summer squash that’s not too seedy or soft)
1 bell pepper, sliced lengthwise into thin strips
Sunflower oil or any high-heat cooking oil, to coat the pan
2 tablespoons butter
Sambal, or your favorite chili condiment, such as sriracha or Korean chili sauce, to taste
1 cup loosely packed basil, torn or roughly chopped
½ lemon, cut into wedges
Heat a large cast-iron skillet or sauté pan over medium-high. Once hot, drizzle pan with oil until the bottom is just coated. You don’t want too much oil. Add squash and peppers.
Cook for 1-2 minutes without touching the veggies. Once the bottom starts to brown, add butter and toss with veggies.
Before the butter browns, add a spoonful of sambal, to taste, followed by the basil. Toss to combine. Squeeze a lemon wedge on top. Taste, adding more lemon, if desired.
— Courtesy Jon Nodler of Cadence